As we hurtle towards 2010 some financial advisors and life insurance agents keep communicating like it's 1999.

Burned by Boilerplate

As we hurtle towards 2010 some financial advisors and life insurance agents keep communicating like it’s 1999.

The boilerplate communications racket

In the past week I got two identical Thanksgiving e-cards from different reps of the same general agency. Uh oh. It started with an email inviting me to “click here and view the card on a secured site…” which launched a browser, inside of which played a little flash file of autumnal photos — an animated version of the cheesiest Hallmark card ever printed. It was “customized” with the name of its sender.

[warning] Boilerplate reach-out-and-touch efforts go downhill from here.[/warning]

Awash in meaninglessness

CluelessThis week I got this email from a rep that said:  “Every few months, I try to keep my clients and friends up-to-date with current financial issues or critical concerns…” and once again I was invited to view this important update by linking to a secured site.

She set my expectations right up front by promising “up-to-date with current financial issues or critical trends.” I don’t know about you, but I thought  “financial issues or critical trends” might include  something like financial services reform and how this rep is going to go above and beyond the  regs to assure my confidence. Or perhaps a report on how how certain classes of annuities performed… How naive of me.

I clicked the link and got a flash-powered thingy that looked like a PowerPoint deck. The lead screen made the further promise “Providing valuable information of particular interest to you.” Wow, to me!

I then learned that (gasp) “Most people are frustrated by the amount of income tax they’re paying.” Really?

Next came a little lesson on the miracle of compounding interest. Be still my beating heart.

At the end I learned that there was a difference between tax-deferred and taxable income. A targeted message if ever there was one.

And what was the conclusion?  “There could be ways to reduce your tax liability and optimize growth!”  You’re kidding!  Somebody thought of that?

Then there was the lame call to action “Please provide information.” Clicking through I faced a comment box and the warning that I should allow 48 hours for a representative to get back to me. 48 hours? No one in 2009 is going to be that patient. If they want a product they could already buy it online in 48 hours.

You need to stop this. Right now!

I know you work under compliance regs and some companies and agencies are tougher than others.

I also know that these boilerplate services cut deals with the companies and agencies.

Still, there’s no excuse for sending out crap, absolute crap. If your compliance department won’t allow anything besides this boilerplate pablum, abstain altogether.

If your company has an approval process for customized communications, get on the stick! If not, pick the phone off  its cradle and call your clients to wish them a happy new year. THAT will get their attention.

Authenticity can’t be bought, but is priceless

If you’re doing a mass customization communications campaign, do the job properly. For clues of where this boilerplate went into the ditch, look for my snarky comments above in blue.

If this all sounds like work, you’re right. Tell you what, give me a copy of your compliance requirements and I’ll devise a compliant communications strategy.

About Tamela M. Rich

From Charlotte, NC, Tamela writes books, articles, speeches and presentations for business professionals. From "the road" she writes about the people, places and experiences she discovers and the life lessons she learns from them. Invite her to share some of her lessons from the road at your next event!

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  • @Urbane_Gorilla

    Yep! Endless emails promising salvation, untold riches, easy money and of course begging for a contact! You should send those two a link to this blog. I let people know they are wasting my time. To do otherwise leads them to believe they are inconveniencing no-one.

    @Urbane_Gorilla ;=)

  • I DO send out a lot of emails. I have a list of 500+ who get a weekly email from me with links to my latest blog, new workshops that I am teaching or other news that I think they might value. I also ALWAYS include a personal side – something going on in my life (like my father-in-law’s fight with cancer or a story about my kids) and my thoughts about that.

    The response has been hugely positive … especially on the personal parts. Has it generated business. Yes, but not directly. It has helped to build trust and a reputation as an unbiased resource and fiduciary advisor.

    The challenge with the boilerplate messages offered by companies as a service (for a fee) is that they have none of that “personal feel.” I think most people who receive these emails see them for exactly what they are – impersonal inbox clutter that hopes to generate a sale.

    Everything that an advisor sends out either helps their brand or hurts their brand. This is something they should think about seriously before they sign up and start paying for another program designed for advisors who are too busy to care about the message they are sending.

  • And a hearty AMEN to that, John. Thanks for weighing in from the trenches.

  • There’s a lot to be said about spending the time to enter unique information about clients into CRM or similar program. Once a profile is created for each client, advisors can easily segment and target their communications based on appropriate criteria.

    Just discover a rate reduction on business overhead expense insurance? Send out a note to clients that are small business owners. Or perhaps you want to promote your state’s tax credit for college fund contributions. Send out a note to clients with children that have yet to graduate from high school.

    These are fantastic ways to make clients feel like they are receiving personalized, one-on-one service with messages targeted to their needs.

    I know that as a client of other service professionals, I’ve taken my business elsewhere when it became evident that I was simply an account number to the firm.

    Advisors cannot afford to waste their efforts building relationships with clients by sending emails full of “absolute crap.”

  • Finance Answers

    I completely agree, if you aren’t going to take the time to write a personal note, don’t send anything at all! (Note, compliance shouldn’t have a problem with this, you aren’t soliciting and you aren’t giving advice) If this means that you only have time to send 50 clients a card with a personal message, then so be it, send another 50 a card on the next holiday.

    Even when soliciting for business I have felt like you should never send more emails, flyers, etc than you can follow up with through email or by phone. Remember, it’s all about relationships… be personal, be genuine.

  • Scott Hepburn

    Ah, the ever popular “A personal message JUST for you, [Name Field]”…a classic!

    As a marketer, I certainly recognize the impulse behind these campaigns. We want the higher click-thru and conversion rates of a personal message, but at the bargain basement cost of a template. Efficiency through scalability!

    98% of consumers are smart enough (and demanding enough) to push this stuff straight to the trash bin. Alas, it’s that 2% success rate that keeps this stuff coming and keeps my industry churning it out.

    There’s a lot of talk among social media types (particularly PR and marketing crowds) about humanizing business, breaking down barriers between your customers and your team, respecting each voice, etc. These are noble goals, yet they’ll always be in tension with the demand for greater efficiency, greater reach, lower costs, and greater scalability.

    And as long as that tension’s there, you’ll unfortunately be plagued with “Happy [Holiday]…[Mr./Mrs./Ms.] [Name]” message. Hunker down.

  • Wait! You forgot about the address in Nigeria I’m supposed to send my blank check to.

    If you’re going to send boilerplate stuff, it’s impersonal by its very nature so don’t try and tell me you have information “just for me” in it. It’s condescending. Boilerplate is best saved for things like market/investment recaps for the month/quarter/year, or if you want to send a short, generic marketing piece where you want to extend an offer to discuss a potential client’s situation in more detail – and hence deliver that personalized attention/service – then fine. But don’t send me useless drivel.

    The only thing it will prompt me to do is take it to the pistol range, and set it as a target to shoot out certain words at 50 ft.